March 5, 2010 Last Updated 7:45 pm

What to do with a monopoly? Put up a paywall.

UBM’s move to put up a few paywalls where it feels it has a monopoly may only be an experiment, but it feels like an invitation.

Eventually, the VC community has to take notice and realize the future won’t be magazines behind paywalls, but B2B online pure plays. Thanks to VerticalNet B2B pure plays may have a bad name, but with companies like UBM, Nielsen and Reed essentially getting out of the print business altogether, or at least shrinking down to minnow size, an opening has to be there for online pure plays.

Additionally, tablet publishing offers an online company another option (making them, I suppose, no longer a pure play). Between tablet publishing, mobile media, e-mail newsletters, data, and events, a non-magazine B2B still has lots of revenue sources — all more profitable long term than print.

“We deal with niche communities. If you want the type of content that the Building team are capable of producing, for instance, there are not that many other places” to which readers can go because its rivals have perished,” David Levin, UBM’s chief executive officer, said. “As a result, UBM can start charging for content.”

The Guardian called the move a reaction to “the last man standing status” of many of UBM’s magazines.  But as many publishers have discovered, the move to digital has also brought a move to red ink.  It is not just that digital is not bringing the same levels of revenue as print, but that the old print structures remain while the company beefs up digital.  As a result, many print titles have been shuttered while the scramble goes on to adjust to an online-only environment.

The problem with this strategy is that is forces a print structure on top of a digital environment. Editors poorly trained to develop their web sites suddenly find themselves in the middle of a sharp learning curve.

Having said all that, though, UBM is probably better positioned than many others to adjust — the outlook looks pretty good as UBM’s businesses include products like PR Newswire, events, and data. Maybe UBM could develop its own pure play in B2B, and if successful, move many of its assets over to the new unit?

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